In the Age of Consumption — Dayenu, We have Enough

It’s ironic that on Passover we rush to the stores and spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on brand new food products we only just a few days ago had been able to use. Passover at it’s core is an anti-consumption holiday. The Torah commands us to exclude from our diet, to not eat unleavened bread. It doesn’t yet know about the wonders of almond flour and potato starch. Yet with all of the stuff crowding into our homes and pantries, we can forget that really, Passover is the holiday of Dayneu, looking around at exactly what we have and saying, ok, if I only had JUST this, that’s enough.

Most of us, including myself, are caught up in a never ending cycle of consumption.  We own so many products with a designed social expiration date and we consciously (or unconsciously) give in to the pressure to replace them. We have been warned – our planet can’t sustain the demand on resources that our social appetites have created and yet we can’t stop ourselves from needing more. And hey, the guaranteed dopamine hit that accompanies the experience of getting something new doesn’t hurt either.

But it isn’t just material goods that we constantly crave. We are always rushing ourselves to consume the next stage of life: an engagement, a marriage, a promotion, a baby, a new job, a new beach house, a new car, whatever’s next. We think to ourselves, maybe there’s something better out there around the corner. We keep our options open and we’re constantly planning for the next phase. Even if we’re not, society often pushes us along and asks, “what’s the plan? what’s next?” “Where are you going to college?” “What will you do for work” “When are you going to have a baby? “A second? A third?” “What will you do when you get there?”

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with ambition or being organized and creating life goals. But sometimes you have a year where the life plan goes out the window and you’re left with, well, exactly what you have, whether you like it or not.

This morning, before the craziness of the cleaning and the cooking and the searching for hametz would begin, I was lying in bed and my husband was still sleeping. I looked at him there curled up next to me and I whispered to myself, “Dayenu,” and I really meant it. If we never made more money, if we never advanced in our careers, if we never had a baby, if we never went anywhere or did anything else, Dayenu. This would be enough.

And so I started to think of more Dayenu’s. We need Dayenu’s, a list of the basics, a list of the things we know to be the bottom of the truth, the truths we can hold on to in our moments of failure, of feeling unworthy, of impatience as we wait to reach the next stage of our lives. A list to remind ourselves that we really do have so much. We have enough.

If I had only been born a girl in America in the 21st century, with my rights and my privileges that my country and my century allow me, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only had a clean, beautiful place to live, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only had my health, my strength, my youth, my ability to walk and see and even sometimes, run, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only had a few members of my family healthy and alive, a few close friends to confide in, a Jewish community to support me, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only lived in a country at peace, with a stable transition of government every four years, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only had my job, with it’s intellectual challenges, with it’s hard-won, deeply emotional rewards, Dayenu, that would be enough.

If I only had a little time now and then to see my friends, to go for coffee, to stream a show, to walk in the park, each of those moments would be enough.

I will always want more. It’s in my nature, it’s human nature. But instead of looking around and noticing all the things in my life that I want, that are missing, I’m just going to try to remember the words from the Haggadah, “how many layers of goodness has God bestowed upon me”. Each of those Dayenu’s alone would be enough and without a single one of them, my life would be irrevocably different. When you list them out like that, they really do add up.

It’s a challenge for all of us see our own layers, instead of all of the things that we still want. I think I struggle every day to only see the blessings and not what’s lacking. But if I only had two nights a year where I’m reminded that once I was a slave and now I really am free, with all the gifts that freedom bestows, Dayenu, that would have to be enough. It’s up to me to remember the rest of the year.

About the Author
Erin Beser has served in a leadership role in several diverse American Jewish institutions, her favorite posts being the Jewish communities of Bombay, India and Izmir, Turkey through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. She received a masters in Hebrew Culture from Tel Aviv University, a teaching certificate from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and continues her education annually through Bank Street College of Education. She loves lattes, traveling, and playing the ukulele.
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